Early Gamble Pays Off
If opening a business is a gamble, staying in business is a high stakes poker game where the most successful players recognize the wisdom in the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’s classic, “The Gambler.” You know the song: “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Bob Roswell and Maury Weinstein, co-founders and co-owners of System Source, spent the past 30 years reading the computer industry’s (punch) cards and dealt themselves a winning hand.
System Source is best known for offering computer software training from company designed and owned classrooms in Columbia, Havre de Grace and the Hunt Valley headquarters. System Source instructors also teach courses offsite at businesses and over the Internet.
End-users learn to use software from vendor-certified instructors using vendor-certified curriculum, certainly, but System Source also partners with software vendors to train network engineers and software developers. System Source is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner for Learning Solutions, Oracle University Educational Reseller, Red Hat Ready Partner and a VMware Education Reseller, as well as an authorized reseller for Adobe, Apple, Citrix, Cisco and NetApp training.
If you only think training when you hear System Source, however, it’s a safe bet, in this high stakes economy, you need to catch up to stay in the game.
“We’ve been in business 31 years, and if you ask someone on the street what we do, they will say training, but it’s not all we do,” Roswell says.
Training and Much More
System Source designs, integrates and installs video and audio conferencing presentation systems as well as collaborative technology, such as interactive projectors and whiteboards.
System Source offers IT and AV consulting to help decision makers evaluate new technologies and determine whether and when to integrate these technologies into a business’s infrastructure. System Source engineers are experts in cloud computing, server and Exchange upgrades, server/desktop virtualization, storage management, wireless networks, lifecycle management, SharePoint design and implementation, disaster recovery, Citrix solutions, and workstation deployments.
System Source provides Internet services, operating as a business’s data center, hosting and managing servers, monitoring IT health and performance, providing access to software remotely, hosting websites and email, backing up critical data and providing spam and virus control.
System Source rents out laptops, desktops, servers, printers and network switches, as well as LCD projectors and screens, large displays, video teleconference equipment, portable sound and public address systems, as well as the Hunt Valley video teleconferencing room and computer training classrooms.
Finally, System Source offers support and service for everything they rent, host and sell, be it an interactive classroom, video conferencing system, computer network, operating system or software application.
“Microsoft named System Source the No. 1 Microsoft Certified Partner for Learning Solutions in Maryland. We are held to a very high standard for our training. Tracking customer satisfaction has been very effective in retaining clients over multiple decades,” says Jack Underwood, a System Source Senior technical advisor.
Underwood notes the company tracks customer satisfaction in real time, with the owners receiving real-time online streams of website and course comments.
Childhood Friends to Successful Partners
Bob Roswell and Maury Weinstein grew up together in Somerville, N.J. At ages 9 or 10, the boys launched their first business. Roswell explains, “We sold collectible postage stamps at the YMCA.”
Weinstein attended the University of Pennsylvania, while Roswell studied at Yale, but kept in touch. Each accepted summer jobs with businesses on the ground floor of the budding computer industry: IBM and RCA. Rather than segue into white-collar careers with Fortune 500 companies, Roswell and Weinstein decided to take a gamble on computers.
“There was not really a computer industry then. They were aimed at hobbyists, like the model rocket kits they sell to kids,” Weinstein says. Roswell and Weinstein decided to buy into the ComputerLand franchise, what an online “CNN Money Magazine” article calls “the McDonald’s of personal computer retailing.” With all the major cities spoken for, the entrepreneurs settled on the Baltimore market, Lutherville to be precise.
“We opened the 201st ComputerLand in October 1981, the same month the IBM PC came out,” Roswell says. “The short story is ComputerLand got into trouble with its franchisees and settled. We operated as ‘System Source: A ComputerLand Affiliate’ for two years, then we dropped ComputerLand.” They soon discovered customers needed more than computers and peripherals: they needed to be taught how to make computers work.
Ron West, owner of Harvey West Auctioneers, was one of those customers. In fact, West, then operating as Knickerbocker Realty, was among the company’s first clients, and after 31 years, still is.
System Source records show West spent $5,661.60 to purchase a basic PC system in 1982. The computer, an original IBM PC with a whopping 48K internal memory capacity, was $2,235.
“At the time you bought the hardware and software separately. It was the infant stage of spreadsheet and word processing,” West says. “There were very few toll-free numbers to call; we were on our own. You had to make it work yourself.”
About Roswell and Weinstein, West says, “They were very helpful. Believe me, they are brilliant, both of them.”
Today, Harvey West Auctions uses System Source to host its offsite servers and services more than 300 clients through a System Source operated portal.
Roswell and Weinstein say it wasn’t much of a risk to add sub-lines to their ComputerLand offerings. Roswell says, “The industry discovered if all you did was sell product you went out of business by 1985.”
To help customers like West, System Source added in-store and off-site training, tech support and computer rentals. Weinstein says, “Over the years, we picked up presentation systems. Every couple of years, we create a new division.”
Not all of those divisions made it, and like true gamblers, Roswell and Weinstein had a knack for knowing when to fold.
“[We closed] our supply line division, [where] we sold computer covers, dot matrix paper, ribbons, pen plotters. With the Office Depot, Staples and Walmarts and online ordering, it didn’t make sense,” Roswell says.
When it comes to deciding what new technologies to embrace and eventually offer to clients Weinstein notes, “You can’t be too far out, and you can’t be always playing catch-up.” I95
338 Clubhouse Road
QUITE THE COLLECTION
Bob Roswell got his entrepreneurial start as a pre-teen, selling stamps to collectors. Now in his 50s, he’s a well-established collector himself. His passion? The history of office technology, particularly computing.Roswell witnessed the workplace transformation brought on by the personal computer. Using his grandfather’s 1930s-era electronic calculator as a seed of sorts, Roswell built a museum than comprises about 10 percent of System Source’s Hunt Valley headquarters and training site.
More than a collection on display, System Source has invested in signage and documentation to explain the evolution of computing, beginning with calculating systems used by the ancient Chinese, Japanese and Incas. By appointment only or on Wednesdays at 12:30pm, Roswell personally guides groups through areas dedicated to memory systems, storage systems and computers large and small.
While a few items are on loan from collectors, he owns almost every machine, device and peripheral in the collection, which includes an Altair 8800 computer identical to the one Bill Gates used to launch the Microsoft empire. School and scout groups, business leaders and the occasional tourist come to Hunt Valley to glimpse at the past, and learn not to take for granted the tiny devices on which many record their visit. He is in a rent-to-own agreement for a 1963 Univac 490, the very same computer used at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to track Apollo. Holding up his smart phone and gesturing to the Univac, Roswell puts everything in perspective: “You can fit 110,000 of those in here, but the phone is 100,000 times more powerful.”